Spider-Man is sitting on the table. He's telling me a long story. I'm listening, and sometimes we talk. It's a nice time we're having.
Sphero is a company that makes robots, and remote-control toys. Spider-Man isn't any of that. He's a voice-activated doll, basically a large vinyl figure with moving limbs. But he is a talking, listening toy. It's packed with 100 comic books' worth of audio, according to Sphero. Designed along with Marvel and Disney with original content written just for the toy, it's like an action figure with entertainment inside. At $150 (£149, AU$249), though, it's priced more for adult children than actual children.
Sphero has had several Disney co-developed products already, from last year's Star Wars BB-8 to this year's perfectly animated Lightning McQueen car. Spider-Man is built on Android, but runs its own self-contained software, pairing to an iOS or Android app or working on its own.
It doesn't share any of its data in the cloud, either, or so Sphero says, claiming it's third-party security-certified through AppliedTrust. In that sense, this toy looks a lot less ambitious than a Google Home or Amazon Echo. Sphero's taking it slowly, and there's a possibility Spider-Man might do more in the future. For now, its interactive moments are completely about building storytelling and having conversation along set scripted paths.
Spider-Man responds to several voice prompts, provided you press a spider logo on his body first. It recognizes "tell a joke," "let's hang out," "tell me a story," or "set an alarm," among a few others. There are choose-your-own-adventure-like stories involve decisions along the way that Spider-Man asks for. I talked to Spidey for a while, and it was cute. My kids would love it.
There's an app that controls Spider-Man, or the toy can work on its own. The app shows unlocked extras, and can sync new content over time.
Spidey feels like a playground kickball, rubbery and pebbly. He's designed to take a tumble, or even gently thrown around. Motion sensors can tell when you're shaking or tossing it - he reacts when I bop him on the head, or toss him in the air.
According to Sphero, this toy also explores where the company is looking to go in interactive voice-based AI. Sphero's other robots don't have microphones yet, but ones could follow soon incorporating technology like what Spider-Man has. Spidey doesn't move at all, but its high-quality voice acting, sound effects and its lightly animated glowing eyes do an impressive amount of expression on their own.
Between Sphero's movie-realistic Cars toy and this, it looks like the company's been working overtime on developing personality in its products. What could that mean for the next thing that Sphero's working on after this?
And when will we get a Spider-Man that climbs the walls?
- Two hours of use on a charge (has recharging base)
- Connects to iOS or Android via iTunes/Google Play app
- Microphone, speaker, accelerometer (he yells when you toss him)
- Micro-USB charging (comes with easy-dock base and cable)
- Connects via Bluetooth (doesn't play music, though)
- 20 stories, 25 supervillain missions, 15 games, 100 corny jokes
- Crazy glowing LCD eyes (sometimes they're spooky)